Starling Irving gets candid about her relish for life

Crybaby speaks with Starling Irving about her career writing for The Paris Review and Man Repeller and her road trip in her family's bright green bus.

Story by Sam Falb

My exact memory of the first time I met Starling evades me in the way that one frustratingly attempts to recall the details of a foggy memory, with only the abstract glow of the happenstance eventually coming to mind. What I can say is that her outfit was timelessly chic and masterfully put together, her smile was bright, and that our simple encounter happened as I scrolled through my Instagram feed.

Starling and I have never met face-to-face, but I’ve greatly enjoyed following along with her through the social experiment that is Instagram. Her travels, book recommendations, and diverse range of work at both The Paris Review and Man Repeller paint a picture of dynamicity and creativity of which I was curious to gain more insight. After all, how many people do you know who can pack up a green bus with a curated collection of vintage clothing and drive down the coast for a summer, selling out of the entire stock along the way?

I caught up with Starling to ask her just how she does it, and I’m happy to say that she was willing to share the wealth and then some.

You work at such an interesting crossroads: online fashion/lifestyle blog and literary magazine. How do you balance your different responsibilities?

I moved to New York on a whim with jeans, a rain jacket, and zero plans. I studied the heroin epidemic in prisons while in college, and although my research had been the most fulfilling life experience I’d ever had, I was ready to dip into some of my other areas of interest. After my flight landed in NYC, I called up a friend and asked if I could sublet his room while he was out of town. While I was there, I applied to a bunch of my dream jobs. I definitely did not expect three of them to pan out! Working in social media at a digital fashion magazine, as a poetry reader at a classic literary magazine, and as an intern at a casting agency seem like vastly different jobs, but their similarities have come to light for me. They all include the privilege of exposure to a great deal of work from artists (designers, poets, actors) and being open minded about how to piece something tangible together from that body of work.

The shorter answer is: I don’t sleep, and I have 2 giant bags every time I leave the apartment so I can run around the city getting everything done.

Is there a dream job in the works somewhere along the way?

I’ve dreamt of being a casting director for films since I was nine years old. I would watch and rewatch the behind-the-scenes DVD extras of the 2003 Peter Pan film where they show the audition tapes and I was completely enamored with the casting process. Because I know that the casting business is my end goal, I purposely wanted to stretch my mind and work in other fields that also interest me before I delve fully into casting, which is why I wound up working multiple jobs at once in NYC this year. I have no doubt that the skill sets I’m exercising in each of these jobs will improve my abilities as a casting director someday.

After growing up in Canada, can you walk us through your decision to move to and stay in the US?

I grew up in a small town on the east coast of Canada. Starting in ninth grade I had the privilege of attending Groton boarding school in Massachusetts, followed by Bowdoin College in Maine.

While in high school I spent some time working at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, and the intrigue of a big city took hold. I’m still a Canadian citizen and spend time in British Columbia on the west coast of Canada where my parents live. The technology of today’s world is making many careers less location-dependent. There are so many places I’d love to live but NYC is definitely a good place to get started.

I loved your Man Repeller piece about the best New York vintage haunts. What catalyzed your passion for vintage fashion? What do you look for when you’re on the hunt?

When I was nine years old, I fell in love with a vintage pink velvet trench coat I found in an antique shop run out of an old chicken barn in Maine and the passion grew from there. Vintage clothing is rarely in flawless condition but small imperfections just add the uniqueness of each piece. My closet is probably 90% vintage at this point.

When vintage shopping for myself, I make a list of the items I’m hunting for before I leave the apartment so I don’t get sidetracked by falling in love with a fuschia tulle ball gown I’ll have no use (or budget) for. While looking through thrift shops, I force myself to imagine what the garment will look like after I’ve washed it in my sink, dried it, and steamed it to get rid of the wrinkles. Then I try it on, and if it fits well and if I can brainstorm at least 5 outfits I would wear it with, I go for it.

Tell us about the bright green bus that you toured down the East Coast on last summer. Can you fill us in as to how one sustainably (and successfully!) runs a mobile vintage clothing business?

My bus is a 1959 Chevrolet Viking and we purchased it eleven years ago for $50. After being completely gutted, adding a 1987 chassis on it, and throwing in some zebra print pillows and tasseled lamp shades, it became my bedroom.

During my senior year of college my parents announced that they were moving to the west coast and while I was packing up my things, I was in shock by the exorbitant amount of vintage clothing I had accumulated over the years. My sister Rein and I decided to take the bus on a road trip and the vintage clothing aspect was added as a way to finance our journey. Although the Instagrams show us in floral dresses prancing around beaches and city streets selling our wares, what they don’t show is the hours of planning and all nighters we pulled getting all the necessary permits for each state (vending licenses, mobile vending licenses, parking permits, market permits, state tax ID numbers, etc.), planning our routes, and restocking by connecting with vintage collectors.

What advice would you give aspiring creatives looking to make their own mark?

My biggest piece of advice is to ask to get a coffee (or tea in my case) with every fascinating person you come across, and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. Regardless of the industry or life path of the people I’ve sat down with for tea, I’ve always always always learned something exquisite from each person. Face-to-face human connection will never fail to inspire.

Photo courtesy of Starling IrvingO